Facebook executive admits social media platform may be hurting democracy


Facebook's head of civic engagement, Samidh Chakrabarti.

A top Facebook insider admits the social media platform may be hurting American democracy. The social network's head of civic engagement, Samidh Chakrabarti, says Facebook was too slow to recognize Russian interference in the 2016 election.

He wrote in a blog: "It's abhorrent to us that a nation-state used our platform to wage a cyberwar intended to divide society."

Chakrabarti's admission is the most blunt self-assessment yet of the company's shortcomings, reports CBS News' Don Dahler. Chakrabarti says Russia weaponized information on Facebook, sowing discord with 80,000 posts that reached 126 million people.

"This was a new kind of threat that was hard to predict. But we should have," Chakrabarti wrote.

Chakrabarti says he wishes he could guarantee the positive aspects of Facebook outweigh the negatives, but concedes he can't.

"At its best, it allows us to express ourselves and take action. At its worst, it allows people to spread misinformation and corrode democracy," he said.

It's the second time in two months that Facebook – with 2 billion users – has said it can be harmful. In a December blog post, the company said spending too much time on social media could be bad for mental health.

Study: Facebook lowers media trust 01:40

"We're now seeing the unintended consequences of what the company built," said Bloomberg technology columnist Shira Ovide.

Ovide says since the 2016 election, Facebook has come to a difficult realization about the power of its platform.

"I don't think I've ever heard a company say, in the way that Facebook has said the last few weeks, that the product, their main product, can be bad for you," Ovide said.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced last week news feeds would prioritize stories from trustworthy sources over sensationalistic ones.

On Monday, News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch said: "If Facebook wants to recognize 'trusted' publishers, then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies."

Roger McNamee, one of Facebook's early investors, told "CBS This Morning" Facebook's problems are more fundamental.

"What they really want to is appeal to fear and anger, because those are the things that motivate you, that engage you," McNamee said.

Other Silicon Valley companies are facing similar scrutiny. YouTube and Twitter have been denounced for allowing harassment and disturbing content on their platforms. Apple's critics worry its products are addictive to children.

"This is going to be a period of reflection for all of these large tech companies to really assess if what they've built is on balance good for the world," Ovide said.

Facebook did not respond to our request for comment regarding Murdoch's suggestion the social media platform should pay trustworthy news sources for their content. In his blog post, Chakrabarti also said social media enables people to live in echo chambers, but when exposed to opposing views, they tend to dig in.